With a mixture of trepidation and excitement, I want to share my decision to transition my professional career to the non-profit world. This represents a seminal moment as I am the product of the go big or go home 80’s and 90’s. For me, career success defined me as a person. In the spirit of being real, my success was narrowly defined by title and salary. While I had friends that chose to pursue careers in social work or teaching, I admired them but at the same time I could not fathom making that same choice. Late to the game, but I’m now understanding that a professional life can mean real world impact that measures more than profit and loss. While I come to this with some insights and transferable skills, I also know I have much to learn, and that’s honestly the best part.
Perseverance, luck and some skills enabled me to enjoy an incredible and rewarding career as a communications/ PR professional in the private sector. I am now ready to use my ‘powers’ for the social good focused on broader issues around empowerment of women and girls and within that framework, social justice.
Although a career in retail PR doesn’t necessarily translate into big salary, it was my entry point for falling in love with the profession. Retail is an ever-changing landscape of consumer sentiment, new seasons, new products, and multiple influencer audiences. By 2001 during the dot-com days in the Bay Area, when I switched over to technology, I was earning a three-figure salary, bonus, and stock options. After the bubble burst, I returned to retail PR. By that time, I had enough gravitas and experience to land a coveted executive level, director role at Williams Sonoma, Inc. overseeing a PR team for several of the company’s younger brands. After a decade in the city, a marriage and a third baby on the way, we moved to family friendly Austin, Texas. I then switched gears from being a PR insider to a consultant.
Dial forward today. A lot has happened. On a national scale, #MeToo has disrupted our sense of institutional power structures and the people, primarily men who are the collective gatekeepers when women have tried to come forward. It has done much to evolve my own thinking in terms of speaking out and being less willing to be complacent. On a personal level, the tipping point for this seismic shift was actually three concurrent, but unrelated events.
The first, as a mother of three school age daughters, over the years I have lobbied our local public school district on issues ranging from anachronistic and gender shaming dress codes to equitable funding for boys’ and girls’ programs. With each of these inquiries, the outcome has quite literally been in the hands of a man. After one particularity frustrating exchange of mansplaining and quite literal obfuscation after months of lobbying, hearings, and a letter campaign with zero impact – I felt unheard and unable to affect positive change. It’s telling that even in the public education space, that is dominated by WOMEN at every level except the executive suite – when it comes to leadership positions they are invariably held by men. Why is that? With each query on behalf of issues of equity and fairness for girls, once I made it through the first levels of contact, the highest level of decision making power was always held by a man. Seeing that men hold the seat of power in this arena came as news to me. However, I sense the majority of women in public education would not find this to be a newsworthy fact.
At the same time, Melinda Gates made a significant announcement, Melinda Gates 1Billion fund to promote gender equality. The goal of this new fund is to make financial investments in innovative impact making, non-profit organizations working to elevate women and women’s causes specific to leadership. This quote from Gates struck me as so timely and salient, “For most of our history, women’s absence from positions of power and influence wasn’t newsworthy; it was normal. The fact we’re now talking about these inequities is itself a sign of progress.” Reading about this effort to start putting real money behind women’s empowerment made me realize that as a PR professional, I have been connecting my clients / companies to their most important stakeholders my entire career. Who better to prospect, identify and close a deal than a PR veteran? We’re like salespeople, but with better communication skills. PR pros that survive in the business long term, naturally develop a thick skin. We rarely hear a no that can’t become a yes. Natural optimism? Not really. We’re just determined. Often we win over our audiences by both educating and romancing the multiple third party influencers to convince them that our story/product/issue is worth paying attention to.
The third event was a keynote at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. YWCA USA CEO, Alejandra Castillo was the speaker. In her speech she talked about the critical need to raise money, not just a few thousand or even hundred thousand but real money, in the millions from large tech companies and private foundations. The decision makers at these corporate and private foundations? Yup, men. Castillo spoke of the need for us, for women to learn to speak the language of big money and to effectively make these large asks by getting women into these historically all men’s clubs of big money and making those connections and speaking the language of these large patron donors.
As an active board member for YWCA Greater Austin (current), Leander ISD Educational Excellence Foundation (former VP Marketing), and others, the common thread across all sectors and all organizations is the need for long term, strategic, fund development. Often in even the larger, well-known non-profits, fund development gets short shrift and yet it is the single most critical piece of the puzzle.
With all of the skills honed from a career in the private sector in consulting and in-house for large corporate entities to start-ups, targeted, relevant story-telling, building relationships, identifying key decision makers and closing deals that enables everyone to walk away with a win – who better than me to connect the money to the causes that need them?
Wish me luck as I will be actively seeking Fund Development opportunities with large national or even global non-profit organizations i.e. non-profits that have the scale to invest in me. I will continue my volunteer work as a board member, but our family of five still needs my W2, even if it will no longer define me as a person nor be reflective of my whole value.